Babar’s ABC – Laurent de Brunhoff

More in the Series – Babar
“More in the Series” scores the other books in a series where one (or more) of the books have made it into the 1001 Books list. Mostly because I’m a bit of a completionist. 

POINTS: 2 out of 10.

Bechdel: 0 points
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story:  2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 0 points

Alphabet books don’t really fit our metrics very well. It can’t pass the Bechdel, because there is no dialogue, and since all the characters (except the nice old lady who took Babar in) are animals, it’s hard to talk about diversity.

I will say that there is nothing in this book to suggest any awareness of any kind of cultures or ways of being other than a very white European one. The animals are all clothed in that style, the activities they engage in in the book are of European origin (despite most of them being African animals). While it’s not as overtly colonial as some of the story based books, that undertone is still there.

As far as alphabet books go, this one is kinda neat, I guess. C certainly thought it was fun, and spent some time poring over the pictures, examining them carefully. This is one of the advantages of these kinds of picture based books – that it is not so much the text as the imagery that does the work. There’s a lot of fun alliteration and so on.

Not as much fun to read, but since C is a relatively new reader, it certainly has its place. Probably the height of the series for me to be honest, which isn’t saying very much. 😉

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More about Paddington – Michael Bond

More in the Series – Paddington
“More in the Series” scores the other books in a series where one (or more) of the books have made it into the 1001 Books list. Mostly because I’m a bit of a completionist. 

POINTS: 2 out of 10.

Bechdel: 0 points
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story:  1 point
Discretionary ideological points: 1 point

Angelina and the Princess – Katharine Holabird and Helen Craig

More in the Series – Angelina
“More in the Series” scores the other books in a series where one (or more) of the books have made it into the 1001 Books list. Mostly because I’m a bit of a completionist. 

POINTS: 2 out of 10.

Bechdel: 1 point
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story:  1 point
Discretionary ideological points: 0 points

This book passes the Bechdel in that Angelina and Miss Lilly have some dialogue that is about ballet! But that’s the high point really.

You could probably make a case for diversity because there are many mice of different colours, but that’s a bit of a stretch even by my rather low bar in this project, so I’m not giving it. There are certainly no particular cultural markers beyond the colours of the mice to suggest any real diversity going on.

And then there’s the story, which made me twitch a little. Angelina is too sick on audition day to dance properly and ends up with a small part in the show they’re putting on for the Princess of Mouseland (who is nameless). She is, of course, distraught, being as how she is obviously the most important ballerina to ever ballet, but instead of ending up being a story about a little girl setting her ego aside and being happy for her friend Flora who had the main part, this becomes a story about Flora twisting her ankle at the last minute and Angelina swooping in to the rescue, and getting the main part anyway.

It’s… just a bit too Mary-Sue for my taste. Meh.

I don’t recall being particularly impressed with the first book, and this one left me sort of mildly irritated, so I wouldn’t put it on the recommended list. Skip it. There must be better ballet stories if that’s your thing.

The Ugly Duckling – Hans Christian Anderson

POINTS: 2 out of 10.

Bechdel: 0 points
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story:  2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 0 points

I have such a strange complicated relationship with HCA. It is very difficult to separate my attitudes and knowledge about him from his work. This is another thing I could write about at great length, but I’ll try keep it brief.

So let’s start with the easy things. There is no Bechdel pass in this book, in part because none of the characters have names, but also because really, every conversation is about the duckling himself, more or less. There is also no real diversity to talk of. This is definitely a very European story.

So let’s talk about the story. We all know it right? Duckling doesn’t fit with his family, is obviously different, goes through many trials and tribulations, even almost dies of cold and abandonment, and then ultimately discovers his true place, and his true beauty.

It’s not a terrible lesson, and I certainly think it’s a useful moral tale for children, both for kids who feel different themselves, and for kids who don’t, because it is a great lesson in empathy.

But it is a VERY moral tale. And this is a theme with Anderson. He was very fond of his moral tales, and this one in particular is extremely autobiographical – he absolutely saw himself as this underappreciated ugly duckling who would eventually “show everyone”. And he did, I guess. I mean many of his stories are now a standard part of the fairytale canon.

That being said, as far as fairytales go, this one is probably one of the least dodgy ones. A lot of fairytales have a lot of things in them that to the modern audience feel very unsavoury, when you start to think about them. This is a simple rags to riches kind of deal. The duckling finds the place he belongs, discovers his true self, and all is well.

You could definitely do worse. 🙂

Madeline and the Gypsies – Ludwig Bemelmans

More in the Series – Madeline
“More in the Series” scores the other books in a series where one (or more) of the books have made it into the 1001 Books list. Mostly because I’m a bit of a completionist. 

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

Bechdel: 1 point
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story:  1 point
Discretionary ideological points: 0 points

This is probably my least favourite of the Madeline books, just because of all the “gypsy” stereotypes. I realise it’s a product of its time and all that, but I think the whole “gypsy” concept is still so problematic, that I found myself wanting to have a long conversation with C about why it’s not really an okay term to use any more, and why a lot of the ideas in the book are actually pretty prejudiced.

I mean, the “gypsies” help Madeline and Pepito at first, but then it veers into the whole ‘kidnapping of children’ thing, and that’s such a deep seated and problematic trope that it made me wince a bit.

The book still passes the Bechdel (though only just and it’s a bit of a grey area) because of conversations between Madeline and Ms Clavel, but I haven’t given it the diversity point because, although there are characters of colour, they are there pretty much only to serve as a plot device – and one entrenched mostly in stereotype and prejudice.

I mean, the story has the characteristic rapidity of pace and odd meanderiness that is typical of these books, and it is quite fun to read, butI can’t really get past all the “gypsy” racism stuff. Maybe skip this one. Unless you want to use it as a talking point.

Everybody Loves Bacon – Kelly DiPucchio/Eric Wight

Christopher’s Choice: Each week, C gets four or five books out of the library, and picks one as his favourite, and I review it. This is this week’s choice.

POINTS: 2 out of 10.

Bechdel: 0 points
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story:  2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 0 points

I can’t say much ‘worthy’ about this book, apart from the fact that it is a lot of fun. There is no Bechdel pass and no notable diversity (but since all the characters are different kinds of food, that’s a bit of a red herring).

It is great fun though. Bacon becomes very popular, and it goes to his head. He forgets all his old friends, gets way to involved in his own fame and popularity – “Who needs friends when you have fans?” he asks. And then… he gets eaten. Because, well, of course.

There’s no redemption, and I suppose if there’s a message it’s something like, if you treat your friends crappily, you deserve to get eaten. 😉

The story is a bit thin, to be honest, but it’s still pretty funny, and C obviously thought it was great. I wouldn’t say it’s going to be a classic of literature – it’s not particularly clever, or even really particularly well written (though I did enjoy the nod to ukuleles), but it is pretty fun, and rather amusing.

It wouldn’t have been my choice of the options he had, but this feature is called “Christopher’s Choice” for a reason, and at the end of the day, kids like what they like. Certainly, it won’t do any harm. 😉

Also, I mean, bacon is delicious. So there’s that.

The Night Before Christmas – Clement C. Moore

POINTS: 2 out of 10.

Bechdel: 0 points
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story:  2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 0 points

So, I have a total weakness for Christmas, and all things Christmassy, and a bit of a soft spot for this poem. There are many, many picture book versions of this floating around in the world, and the one we read isn’t even the one I’m linking to above, but most of the ones I saw follow roughly the same illustrative gist.

Unsurprisingly, there is no Bechdel pass and not a person of colour to be seen. This isn’t really surprising given the poem’s origins. And there may well be versions of it that at least show people of colour, but the one we got was pretty ordinary, predictable fare.

So it scores pretty low, but you know, there’s something very timeless and charming about this piece of writing, and it is a classic for a reason. It is one of the more iconic bits of poetry in the Western canon, and it actually mostly stands up pretty well to the passing years.

C loved it – but C, like his mother, loves all things Christmas related, so this isn’t really much of a surprise. He was most put out that there was no sign of Rudolph, and I had to explain that this particular story was from before Rudolph joined the team. Ahem. When your five year old doesn’t realise the story is fiction… 😉

It’s still great though, after all these years. If you’re the sort of person who loves Christmas, well, you probably already are familiar with it, but if not, you should pick it up. Solid stuff.